Bach’s take on the parable from Luke is speculative and rather abstract. He immediately jumps into the question of why, when given the choice between the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad, man will make the wrong choice. The German word “Flattergeister” is sometimes translated as “flibbertigibbet.” The aria that opens with that phrase is one of the few overtly humorous things in the Bach sacred cantatas. The wonderfully patchy orchestration and the bouncy, un-centered vocal line is the perfect portrayal of vacuous self-satisfaction. The sinister entrance of “Belial,” always with the most unexpected harmonic turns, makes the flibbertigibbet an easy and fair target. The serious and detailed alto recitative makes clear that the results of this behavior are disastrous.
This cantata comes down to us in a broken and incomplete form. The violin obbligato for the literally thorny tenor aria is missing. John Harbison has provided the suitably spiky and virtuosic violin part. The soprano recitative provides a change of tone, introducing the positive affect of the following chorus. Embedded in the chorus is an elaborate and richly detailed duet for soprano and alto. In keeping with the cantata's fragmentary nature, there is no concluding chorale. ©Craig Smith, additions by Pamela Dellal